Great start for Atlanta MLS franchise

September 21, 2017
Atlanta United fans cheer for their team before an MLS soccer match against Orlando City on Saturday in Atlanta.

Concerns about whether football would draw in the Atlanta market were apparently overblown. Way overblown.

The Atlanta United have been attracting big crowds for their first season in Major League Soccer, culminating last weekend when an MLS-record 70,425 fans came to a match against rivals Orlando City.

Arthur Blank, owner of the NFL's Atlanta Falcons, had expressed interest in an MLS franchise as far back as 2007, but when plans for a new multi-use stadium took shape, the odds of landing a team grew and the city was awarded one in 2014.

At the time, naysayers complained football couldn't compete in a crowded market that already had the Falcons, the NBA's Hawks, Major League Baseball's Braves and Georgia Tech.

Fans in the city were often labelled as fickle, too. The Atlanta Thrashers often had some of the NHL's lowest average attendance figures (among other issues) before relocating to Winnipeg in 2011.

The only inkling of how a football team might do in the region was the Atlanta Silverbacks, who drew an average of 4,677 fans (in a 5,000-seat stadium) in 2013 while playing in the North American Soccer League the year before MLS awarded the city a franchise.

No one anticipated this.

Going into the team's inaugural year, the United sold well over 30,000 season tickets, a league record.

The team now leads MLS in attendance, drawing an average of 47,926. That's ahead of perennial attendance leaders Seattle, who also shares a stadium with an NFL team.

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